Garden tools: What you need and what for

Conventional gardening wisdom states that there are tools that one MUST have to successfully plant a garden. That is not really true. Birds and squirrels plant stuff all the time and I have never seen them with tiny shovels. Garden tools make everything easier. Good garden tools make everything waaaaaaay easier. However, if you have no money but you DO have a pot of dirt or a little patch of earth, you can still plant stuff.

That being said, let’s talk about how to make it waaaaay easier. When I started gardening on my own, I did zero research. I had a small budget and a short attention span. I went to the dollar store and purchased a little plastic trowel and hand fork and that was it. Eventually, I realized my error and got a cheap shovel without paying any attention to its construction. Then, I got a plastic leaf rake. Didn’t know there were different kinds. They all broke in the middle of what I was doing, sending me into a volcanic fit of rage, spewing cuss words and throwing tools in all directions. Don’t do that. The neighbors are watching.

Decent Tool Construction

The first thing I had to find out the hard way was that cheap tools are just that, cheap. If you get the lowest quality version of something, it can make the whole job harder than if you just used your hands. Or they break immediately. Lesson learned. 

Materials

Plastic and aluminum are not good garden tool materials. They don’t have a lot of shock absorption and smash all to pieces. Handles made of soft woods have the same problem. For this reason, hardwood or solid-core fiberglass handles are your best bet. Forged steel is the best metal for gardening purposes. 

Connection

The way the handle is connected to the tool makes a big difference. If there is a seam in the metal that wraps around the handle, that seam will open up and your tool will break. Look for tools with what’s called a solid socket and strap. There is no seam in it to pull apart.

Handles

When there is a lot of space to work in, long handled tools will save a lot of strain on your back. They get better leverage and do not force you to stoop over. Conversely, short handled tools are the only way to go when the garden is located in a tight space or you are having to work carefully with more control.

Rakes

Photo by Ronaldo de Oliveira on Unsplash

A decent rake is pretty helpful to spread dirt, grade, and remove rocks, leaves, and weeds. The leaf rake is the kind that looks like a big fan with flat metal tines all spread out. It works best for pulling leaves and other debris through grass without damaging it. Of course, I learned not to use a leaf rake for grading or removing rocks.

A garden rake or “bow rake” is a heavy duty, thicker metal rake. This kind is shaped like a bow and has tines sticking out of the bottom. Use it to work the soil because it can withstand the weight of dirt and rocks. You can flip the head of it over to flatten the dirt using the flat side. A hand fork is a small, hand held rake that is useful for weeding. I use all of these on a regular basis. Each one has an important function in my garden.

Shovels

Photo by Mike van Schoonderwalt: https://www.pexels.com/photo/red-buckets-and-shovels-hanging-at-fire-station-5504692/

Shovels are fairly self explanatory but really helpful when working in the garden. They are the most basic and recognizable tool for breaking up and moving soil. Different shaped shovels are more helpful for different tasks. For really hard, compact soil, a pointed shovel works best. For loose soil, a flat bladed spade is better suited. A flat bladed shovel is also ideal for edging and moving material. If you have a big garden, use a shovel with a long handle, if you are in a confined space, go for the shorter one. When transplanting, use a hand held trowel to dig a hole. You get it.

Hoes

I mean, who doesn’t love a good quality hoe? Amiright? There are a ton of different versions of this tool. Some can get pretty weird looking and are specific in what they are used for. Personally, I prefer tools that are multipurpose. The most common garden hoe is the draw hoe and it is just a wide, flat blade. It is good for almost everything. Weeding, digging, grading, ect… The one I use the most is one that has the draw hoe on one side and claws sticking out of the other side. That way, when there are stubborn weeds, the claws help rip them right out. 

Garden Forks

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

This thing looks like a slightly less threatening pitch fork. Use this for turning compost and busting through hard to break up things in the garden. It is the best tool to get through hard packed dirt, digging up stubborn weeds, getting to your root crops, ect…

Watering Tools

Photo by David Ballew on Unsplash

Getting water to your plants is important. A garden hose is pretty basic for this purpose. The better quality heavy duty hoses make watering the garden much less aggravating. A sprayer for the hose is helpful to spray the water more evenly. As is the case with most tools, there are a wide variety of really specialized versions of garden hoses and sprayers. If you have a big garden, having a sprinkler will make watering much easier.

I recommend a watering can for plants you have in places where you can’t drag the hose (in the house or on the porch). Also, a watering can will come in handy when you feed your plants because you can keep track of the dilution.

Carrying Tools

Getting all of the supplies you need to where you are going is harder than it sounds. Especially if your garden is large or far from your house. A wheelbarrow is extremely useful for moving things through an area that requires better maneuvering. Since they have one wheel on the front, they can corner better than the other kinds of carts and hand trucks. The only problem is that they are also easily toppled over.

If you aren’t in a space that requires careful maneuvering, a horizontal hand truck is the best way to move the most plants and tools to the garden. They are more stable than a wheelbarrow and steer better than a wagon. A basket is great to carry your produce in because you can spray it all off with the water hose before you bring it inside.

Personally, I like to have a hip bag or “fanny pack” to carry my hand tools in when I’m doing my daily inspection. That way I can have my hand tools and gloves ready, but my hands are free and I don’t have to juggle everything or lug a big old bucket around.

Miscellaneous

Pocket knife 

Scissors 

Hand pruners

Loppers

Tiller

Twine

Gloves

Straw hat

Rubber boots

These are all just recommendations based on my personal experience. You will find out what you prefer and what works best for you. I hope this post saved you some headache and money.

Resources

These are the sources I used to research this article. I highly recommend you read them because they had a wealth of useful information and far more than I could fit in here. 

Cutler, Karan Davis. Burpee- The Complete Vegetable & Herb Gardener: a guide to growing your garden organically, Macmillan/Burpee. 1997, New York.

Kilbride, Benjamin. “Gardening Tools We Consider Indispensable: It Doesn’t Take Much!.” Almanac. www.almanac.com/gardening-tools-guide. Accessed 25 September 2022.

“Types of Gardening Tools, and Their Uses.” Agrifarming, www.agrifarming.in/types-of-gardening-tools-and-their-uses. Accessed 25 September 2022

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